What is kinship?
• Sense of being related to another person(s)
• Set by rules (sometimes laws)
• Often taken for granted as being “natural”
rather than cultural
• Cultures define “blood” relative differently
Includes relationships through blood and
• Provides continuity between
• Defines a group on whom a person can
rely for aid.
• Affiliations between children and parents.
• Organize domestic life.
• Enculturate children.
• Allow transfer of property.
• Carry out religious ritual.
• Settle disputes.
Principles of Classifying Kin
• Relative age
• Lineality vs. Collaterality
• Consanguineal vs. Affinal kin
• Sex of linking relative
• Side of the family
KIN TYPES VS. KIN TERMS
¨ KIN TYPES: The basic relationships anthropologists use to describe the
actual contents of kinship categories.
1. Kin types are supposedly culture-free (ETIC) elements : what WE call
2. Kin types are based upon biological relationships.
¨ KIN TERMS: The labels for categories of kin that contain one or
more kin types (EMIC)
In other words….what THEY call people.
A kin type is used to designate each individual relationship e.g. Mother, father,
mother’s brother, mother’s sister.
Each relationship between kin is described by a sequence of primary
components strung together to indicate biological relationships.
Father = F
Sister = Z
Brother = B Mother’s Sister = MZ
Daughter = D Mother’s Sister’s Daughter = MZD
Son = S Sister’s Son = ZS
Husband = H
Wife = W
• Kin terms are specific to particular cultures
• Uncle, cousin, grandfather ~ these terms are
peculiar to English terminology.
THESE ARE NOT KIN TYPES BECAUSE THEY
CAN INCLUDE MORE THAN ONE
RELATIONSHIPS: They are KIN TERMS!
• Kin Categories are not specific to biological
KIN VS. KINDREDS
KIN: All those individuals who are considered to be related to
you; all members of your extended family.
KINDREDS: A concept different than that of “Kin”. Kindred
are those to whom one is related and who come together for
support and for special social occasions.
COGNATIC and UNILINEAL
Cognatic descent rules: both male and female parentage are
used to establish relationships
– Bilateral descent: The most common cognatic rule
Bilateral descent takes into account descent evenly on both
the male and female sides
– Ambilineal Descent: rather “Ambiguous”. Depending
on the social benefits (such as tracing ones lineage to a
famous distant ancestor) the lineage is a mix of male
and female relatives.
Unilineal Descent rules: rules restrict parental links
exclusively to males or exclusively to females.
female “ego” of the diagram
male “ego” of the diagram
is married to
is cohabiting with
is divorced from
is separated from
is descended from
Is the sibling of
Lineal vs. Collateral Kin
• Basis of kinship in 60% of world’s cultures
• Most associated with pastoralism,
horticulture and agricultural systems
• Descent based on links through paternal or
• Forms nonoverlapping descent groups that
perpetuate themselves over time even
though membership changes.
• Provide clear group membership for
everyone in the society.
Matrilateral vs Patrilateral Kin
• Descent is traced through male lineage.
• Inheritance moves from father to son, as
does succession to office.
• Man’s position as father and husband is the
most important source of male authority.
• Example: Nuer or Sudan.
• Found among 44% of all
• Kinship is traced
through the male line
• Males dominate position,
power and property
•Girls are raised for other
•Found in East and South
Asia and Middle East
Patrilineal Descent, Egocentric, Male Ego
• Descent is traced through the female line.
• Children belong to the mother’s descent
• The inclusion of a husband in the household
is less important.
• Women usually have higher status.
• Example: Hopi.
• Found among 15% of all
• Kinship is traced
through the female line
• Women control land and
•Found in the Pacific,
Australia, small parts of
• Declining though
Matrilineal Descent, Egocentric, Female Ego
Matrilineal vs. Patrilineal.
Patrilineal Kin ~ linked through males
Matrilineal Kin ~ linked through femalesal Kin - linked through females
Cross relatives ~ cross sex linked
• Descent is traced equally from both parents
• Married couples live away from their
• Inheritance is allocated equally between
• Dominant in foraging and industrial cultures
Egocentric Bilateral Kindred
COGNATIC AMBILINEAL DESCENT
• The ambiguities of bilateral descent are not useful for
establishing fixed obligations, inheritance etc.
• In cases where it is important to be linked to an ancestor
albeit through complex means, ambilineal descent rules
The establishment of a cognatic ambilineal descent
rule means that a lineage must be decided upon:
• the group of individuals who claim relation through the
various combinations of male and female relatives. The
membership in the lineage will look the same for all
A series of relationships, culturally
determined, which are not based upon birth
• In very large and complex lineages, divisions are
recognized which indicate degrees of close relationship,
as well as potential obligations to others in the lineage.
• Maximal Lineage: All members distant and near
• Minimal Lineage: Only three generations
• CLAN: Unilineal descent group descended from a real
or fixtive ancestor through real or fictive relationships.
• Patriclan or Matriclan
Phratries and Moieties
Some societies group their clans into even larger-scale unilineal descent groups called
phratries. As with clans, the actual genealogical links are not clear and the phratry ancestors
are usually mythical.
Entire societies may be divided into two large unilineal descent groups that have reciprocal
responsibilities and privileges. These groups are known as moieties (from the French word for
half). The distinction between phratries and moieties is not simply a matter of the number of
groupings. Moieties are intended to produce a balanced opposition within a society. The constantly
reinforced social and economic exchanges between them results in economic equality and political
Societies with moieties usually consist of a few thousand people or less. In contrast, societies with
phratries are often larger. As in the case of clans and phratries, moiety members usually cannot
demonstrate all of the descent links back to their supposed common ancestor.
Membership in unilineages, clans, moieties, and phratries is inherited and usually continues
throughout life. As a result, these unilineal descent groups often function successfully as long-
term joint property owners and economic production teams.
[Source: Palomar Department of Behavioral Science http://anthro.palomar.edu/kinship/kinship_4.htm]
Kinship Classification and
• Outlines rights and obligations.
• Specifies how people act toward each other.
• Determines the types of social groups that
• Regulates the systems of marriage and
Systematic Kinship Terminologies
There are Six basic classes of kinship systems. All known kinship patterns are
variants of one of these basic systems.
Sudanese Kinship System
Sudanese Naming System ~ The most descriptive system, named after
the groups that use them in Africa (primarily Ethiopia).
• The Sudanese system is completely descriptive, assigning a different
kin term to each distinct relative
• Eight different cousin terms, and distinguishes between F, FB, MB
• There are technically no general categories
• Often associated with societies with distinct class divisions
Eskimo Kinship System
Inuit (Eskimo) System – Typically found among hunting-and-gathering
people in North America and correlated with bilateral descent.
• There is an emphasis on bilateral descent
• No division is made between patrilineal and matrilineal kin
• Nuclear family members are assigned unique labels not extended
to any other relatives.
• More distant collateral relatives are grouped together on the basis
of distance. This practice is called Collateral Merging
Hawaiian Kinship System
Hawaiian Naming System – This is the least descriptive system.
• Emphasizes distinctions between generations
• Merges together many different relatives into a few categories
• Ego differentiates relatives only on the basis of sex and
• Reflects the equality between the mother’s and the father’s sides
of the family.
Traditional Hawaiian society was highly stratified in terms of
commoners and the royalty. Membership in a particular lineage and
age was important for social standing. Your collateral position in the
lineage was somewhat less important.
Iroquois Kinship System
Iroquois Naming System ~ A system common in unilineal descent
systems where it is important to distinguish between Father’s and
• Based upon the principle of BIFURCATE MERGING
• The same term of reference is used for father and father's brother
(1) as well as mother and mother's sister (2).
• Parallel cousins from both sides of the family are lumped together
with siblings but distinguished by gender (5 = male and 6 =
• All cross cousins are similarly lumped together and distinguished
by gender (7 = male and 8 = female).
Omaha Kinship System
Omaha Naming System - found among patrilineal peoples including the
Native American group of that name.
• An example of a bifurcate merging system
• Patrilineally based kin naming system in which relatives are lumped
together on the basis of descent and gender.
• Siblings and parallel cousins of the same gender are given the same
term of reference (5 = male and 6 = female).
• Father and father's brother also have the same kin term (1).
• Other people in ego's mother's patrilineage are lumped across
generations (2 = female and 4 = male).
• This system is common in unilineal descent systems where it is
important to distinguish between Father’s and Mother’s kin.
Crow Kinship System
The Crow Naming System- is named for the Crow Indians of
North America. It is the matrilineal equivalent of the Omaha
• Matrilineally based kin naming system in which siblings and
parallel cousins of the same gender are given the same term of
reference (5 = male and 6 = female) as are mother and
mother's sister (2).
• Other people in ego's father's matrilineage are lumped across
generations (1 = male and 3 = female), reflecting the
comparative unimportance of the father's side of the family in
societies using the Crow system.
cultures have a
Research more fluid system
suggests divorce of joining and
rate is lower in breaking up
cultures In multi-spouse
wives are more
stable than three or
Gender affects more
ability to divorce
Widowhood and Remarriage
• In some cultures, women’s position as a
widow is often marked symbolically
– modest clothes
– little food intake
• Remarriage is dependent on economic
factors and gender expectations
– dominant in foraging and industrial cultures
• Polygamous and Extended
– dominant in horticultural, pastoral societies
– household may contain 50 members
– will decline with industrialization?
Households as Social Units
• Spouse/Partner relationships
– studies suggest marital satisfaction is strongly
correlated to sexual activity
• Sibling relationships
• Domestic violence
– Males as perpetrators, women as victims is
found in all cultures
– More common where men control wealth
Households in Social Change
• International immigration
– challenges for parents and siblings
• Shrinking households in the US
• Increasing move away
from nuclear households in industrialized
POSTMARITAL LOCALITY PATTERNS ~ RESIDENCE
For the most part where a married couple or family resides parallels their general kinship pattern
AMBILOCALITY: The couple may stay with either the wife’s or husband’s domestic group
• Relatively permanent resident relations
• Most often associated with cognatic lineages and clans
• Sets the stage for more complex permanent economic/social groups (Why?)
BILOCALITY: The couple may switch between the wife’s and husband’s group
• Relatively frequent moves between wife and husband’s sides
• Most often associated with bilateral descent in mobil societies
• Makes for wide-spread informal relationships
NEOLOCALITY: The couple does not reside with either family group.
PATRILOCALITY: With husbands father
MATRILOCALITY: With wife’s mother
AVUNCULOCALITY: With husband’s mother’s brother
AMITALOCALITY: With wife’s father’s sister
Uxorilocality: with the wife’s kin
Virilocality: with the husband’s kin